“China is a vast country so where should I go?” This is a common question so on a recent trip I tried to answer this question by sampling the best of Beijing and Shanghai. These two cities are very much in contrast from each other. Beijing to the north is a historic, green city of parks and monuments which make it easy to visualise how the Chinese lived in past centuries. In contrast, Shanghai to the south is the modern mega city, a busy hub that millions choose as their home- a home that has only grown up to the vastness it is in the last 100 years.
Beijing has so much to offer including seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites so allow plenty of time to see the city’s key attractions. Just to list a few here; The Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, The Summer Palace and the Ming Tombs – there is so much history here it’s amazing to think that this “modern” history started with the Ming Dynasty in
Beijing has a strong feeling of well-being. People are relaxed and very casual, keeping their Chi first and foremost. Surprisingly (for a kiwi) English isn’t widely spoken, so having a tour guide to explain and translate is a great help to understand and learn.
A few hours’ drive out of Beijing, the biggest attraction is the Great Wall of China. The ancient wall stretches thousands of kilometres so it has many sections to visit but I visited the Badalang Section and it was fantastic. Is it crowded? Yes. Is it steep? In places, very! Wear good walking shoes and carry the essentials; I’d recommend only a camera and bottle of water. But is it worth the effort? Absolutely!
A couple of hours flight to the south of Beijing is Shanghai; the modern city with skyscrapers and the big label shops like Nike, Prada, Louis Vuitton all along Nanjing Road. Shanghai is a major port city so if cruising is your thing there are cruise ships arriving and departing regularly.
Essential sights to see in Shanghai include The Bund, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai World Financial Tower (the bottle opener), and the spiralling Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world. While being a modern city, The Bund has a rich architectural history including Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism and Renaissance styles. Also make sure you visit the Old Town of Nanshi including Yuyuan Garden complex and the City God Temple.
It would be amiss if I didn’t mention the shopping. The Pudong area has everything from tailor-made suits and dresses to bags, jackets, t-shirts, shirts, watches and shoes; the quality is great but don’t necessarily expect them to be the real thing!
Disneyland is Shanghai’s latest attraction. From the central city it is at least a 60-90 minute journey so plan your day in advance. The park was large, easy to get around and clean. Like theme parks all over the world, the rides were great but the queueing times were anything from 45-100 minutes. I’d recommend paying the extra to ‘skip the queue’, especially if your time is limited or ride as a single.
The best advice I can offer any traveller to China is travel with a reputable company such as China Travel Service and have your transfers, sightseeing and accommodation pre-planned and pre-booked. Being an independent traveller in China can have unforeseen surprises with many attractions selling out well in advance, some language barriers and… let’s just say that the tour guides know where the “European style” toilets are! China Travel Service is the biggest tour operator in China and do offer a visa processing service before you travel right through to fantastic support from when you arrive in China to the moment you leave.
Niki from xtravel has recently travelled to China with China Travel Service and can offer amazing tours, insider tips and advice as well as some great restaurant suggestions.